NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday he wants a more constructive relationship with Russia, even as the western alliance is taking measures to respond to Moscow’s increasing military assertiveness.

Speaking shortly before meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the sideline of the U.N. General Assembly, he cited military interference in Ukraine and Georgia, its support for Syria’s Bashar Assad, and the buildup of Russia’s naval forces in the eastern Mediterranean.

“When we have serious disagreements, when we see increased tensions, when we see more military presence close to our borders, it’s actually even more important to have dialogue,” Stoltenberg told The Associated Press.

Improving communication between NATO and Russia could help defuse tensions, he said, as long as conflicts like that in Ukraine remain unresolved. “At least to manage a difficult relationship, to avoid miscalculations, misunderstandings that can trigger really serious incidents or accidents and make sure that if they happen, make sure that they don’t spiral out of control.

Asked about Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s recent comment that his country’s military aims to meet the criteria for NATO membership by 2020, Stoltenberg indicated that NATO wouldn’t be seeking Russia’s permission for Kiev to join the alliance.

“It’s for Ukraine to decide its own path, whether they want to join NATO or not,” he said. “At the end of the day it will be 29 allies and Ukraine that decides whether Ukraine is ready to meet the standards of joining NATO.”

Stoltenberg said NATO wants to avoid a return to Cold War days. But he noted that the alliance is deploying battle groups to its eastern members for the first time, stepping up its presence in the eastern Mediterranean and will soon hold the biggest exercise in the Norwegian Sea in a generation — Trident Juncture — involving land, air and naval forces.

Source: The Associated Press

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